Peter Jenkins caught sight of himself in a shop window as he staggered down the busy High Street, he looked a mess. His suit was crumpled and his shoes scuffed and dirty. He hadn’t shaved in days and his normally well-groomed hair was lank and greasy. When he arrived at the place, he went in and made his way to the large reception desk. He knew people in the chairs around him were glancing up from their magazines and staring at him. He didn’t care.
“Hello Mr. Jenkins, back again?” said the pretty young girl behind the desk, “You’re becoming quite a regular. What can I get you tonight? Your usual?”
Peter looked at her. The name badge on her ample chest said Zoe, he tried not to stare. “Not tonight, thank you,” he said, “I need to talk to someone. It’s urgent. I’ve got a bit of a problem.”
“Of course Mr. Jenkins,” said Zoe, gently pressing the bell below the counter, “If you’d like to take a seat I’ll see who’s free.”
Peter backed away from the counter and slumped into the nearest chair. The woman in the adjacent chair stared at him, then got up and moved to the other side of the room. Peter didn’t have the energy to take offence.
A few minutes later a young man walked in through a side door and called out his name. Peter got up and was led into a small consulting room.
“Good evening Mr. Jenkins, my name is Doctor Barratt, I’m one of the consultants here. What appears to be the problem?
“It’s the dreams,” said Peter, “They’re stopping me from sleeping.”
Doctor Barratt looked at the thick file on his desk. “Oh dear Mr. Jenkins, that is unusual. We pride ourselves here at Dream Inc. on being able to supply our customers with exactly the right sort of dreams to help them have a good night’s sleep. You have been following the instructions correctly, haven’t you?”
“It’s not the instructions, it’s the dreams,” said Peter, a look of desperation etched on his face, “I think I’ve become addicted. I find myself plugging in the Dreams headset at all times of the day. It’s got that bad that I’ve lost my job and my wife has left me. I don’t even bother going to bed anymore. I just sit in a chair, dreaming. I haven’t slept for weeks. What am I going to do?”
“Calm down Mr. Jenkins, calm down. We see this occasionally here at Dreams Inc. where someone has been overdosing on our material. You’ve done the right thing in telling us. Let me just check our records to see what exactly you have been purchasing. Ah yes, I think I can see the problem. Too many happy dreams Mr. Jenkins, that the problem, too many happy dreams.”
“I don’t understand,” said Peter, “How can happy dreams have this sort of effect?”
“Happy dreams Mr. Jenkins, in moderation, are fine but you been having too many. It’s diminished your sense of reality. Your mind has got to the point where it can’t cope with real life anymore and needs to be in a state of induced happiness.”
“So if I stop having these dreams, stop using the Dreams headset, everything will be OK?”
“If only it were that simple Mr. Jenkins,” said Doctor Barratt, closing the file and turning on the computer on his desk, “From what you’ve just told me I’m not sure you would have the willpower to do that. No, I’m afraid the only solution is for you to be admitted to one of our dream units and have your mind realigned.”
“Realigned!” Peter felt his heart thumping. “What exactly does that entail?”
“Don’t be alarmed Mr. Jenkins, it sounds much worse than it actually is. We would simply start to wean you off your happiness high by replacing your present dreams with a few more unpleasant ones. The sort that reflects life as it really is. There will be times when you will feel that you can’t go on living but our specialist staff will be with you all the way.”
Peter slumped back in the chair. “I’ve no choice. I can’t go on like this. When can I start?”
“It looks like you’re in luck, Mr. Jenkins,” said Doctor Barratt, looking at the screen in front of him, “We’ve just had a cancellation and there is a spare bed in Wing 5. I can book you in straight away. Now, what exactly is it that makes you feel unhappy. I mean really unhappy?”